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Is BET's "Iron Ring" Going to Capture the African-American Audience?

According to executives at Black Entertainment Television, "Iron Ring" is just the beginning in an effort to expand the channel's sports programming. To wit:

"At BET, we obviously have to get into sports programming," said BET entertainment president Reginald Hudlin. "Sports is such a big part of the African-American experience."

To that end, the network tonight is also launching a poker series. And Hudlin said BET is open to adding more sports shows as rights become available. "This is just the beginning," he said.

"The trick is what really makes sense, what's available, and what is cost-efficient," he said. "What do we think will connect with our audience?"

Without actually having seen the product, I have to confess this aim of the BET executives sounds praiseworthy. While the UFC does feature some top-tier African-American talent, the fact remains that the majority of the UFC's audience (and MMA hardcores) is young white males. Bob Arum may be a truly distasteful character, but he's not wrong when he says there are deep demographic divisions between the boxing and MMA audience. To whatever extent "Iron Ring" can change this, I am a fan.

But will MMA connect? I hesitate to talk about this issue because the myriad variables affecting outcomes are often difficult to assess. For instance, to what extent does wrestling - a sport that traditionally features far fewer African-Americans than basketball or football - affect how many African-Americans participate in the sport? And to what extent do pricey jiu-jitsu classes prevent inner city minorities from rising through the NAGA ranks? There really isn't any data on this, so it's speculation at best, but my money is on "a lot". White or black, grabbing a basketball and heading down to the local hoops court is pretty easy to do. Ditto with a football and an open field or park. Ultimately, I don't think it's enough to ask minorities to enjoy the sport from afar and expect that to draw them in. They actually need to have much more direct participation from the ground up.

I'm sure we're headed that way and "Iron Ring" is important insofar as exposure is concerned, but it's too simplistic to say mere exposure is what will attract minorities to the sport.

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